The opioid crisis in the United States is one of the greatest modern public health emergencies. More than 90 Americans die every day from opioid overdoses, and the problem is getting worse.
Prior attempts to address the opioid crisis have focused on decreasing prescription abuse, making it harder for people to obtain prescribed opioids. People have turned to dangerous alternatives as a result. The CDC estimates that the rate of drug overdose deaths involving fentanyl and other synthetic opioids increased 45 percent between 2016 and 2017.
Concerned healthcare providers are looking to the latest Healthcare Technology trends for a better solution. Advances in online and mobile tools make it easier for providers to provide care when and where their patients need it, instead of cutting off treatment and leaving patients on their own if they are suspected of prescription drug abuse. Dedicated addiction prevention and relapse prevention tools are also being developed to curb the effect of the opioid epidemic on people and communities.
Telehealth and On-Demand Patient-Facing Communication
This epidemic reaches coast-to-coast, but the effects of the problem seem to be more intense in rural communities. One reason is that rural communities have had less access to health care services than those in urban areas. This is changing as providers adopt telehealth and other mobile medical services to reach rural patients.
Telehealth video calling apps help medical and behavioral health professionals provide mobile healthcare services to rural areas that would otherwise be unserved. Instead of traveling hours each week to visit a doctor for pain management or addiction treatment, patients can receive personalized treatment without leaving their homes.
Confidential patient messaging apps may even provide information for better treatment of all patients. By communicating with patients in their familiar environments and when symptoms occur, clinicians can gain insight into the timing and severity of these symptoms. Patient messaging services also help reluctant patients keep in touch with their healthcare providers. Secure, confidential communications services like Lua can be used to message patients who have not been into the office for a while. Patients can also reach out at critical times when they have a question or fear a relapse.
Electronic prescribing for controlled substances (EPCS)
Clinicians and prescribers are using new healthcare technology to determine what medications patients are taking. EPCS can be used to track prescriptions and deliver them securely to pharmacies. Prescribers can see what medications patients have been given previously, reducing the risk of overprescribing while also helping avoid adverse drug interactions. These electronic prescriptions are also less prone to abuse because they are less easily copied or altered than paper prescriptions.
Clinical Direct Messaging
Another way Healthcare Technology trends are helping providers concerned with addiction prevention is through direct secure healthcare messaging with other practitioners. HIPAA-compliant messaging tools allow providers to discuss medical history and share information when one provider suspects the patient may be seeking prescriptions due to addiction instead of physical pain.
Pain Management Mobile Applications
Patients have begun to use new mobile applications to track pain symptoms and response to medications. This information helps both patients and providers determine the correct dosage and schedule for prescription medications. Participants in one study by Brigham and Women’s Hospital reported improvements in their pain management plan when they used an app to chronicle their pain and talked about the information with their doctor.
Other apps are being developed as an alternative to opioid medications. Chronic lower back pain and other persistent pain caused by anxiety and stress may be reduced by apps that relax the patient through music or meditation.
Artificial intelligence is being used by many industries these days, and addiction prevention is no different. Researchers are using machine learning to identify patterns that may help to predict who is at risk of developing an opioid addiction. Other applications of AI include monitoring a person’s computer and mobile interactions for known relapse triggers. These applications are still in their infancy, but the hope is that AI could help personalize relapse prevention tools addressing individual triggers for a particular person.
Whether it's an app to track pain or monitor prescription refills, the future of opioid treatment is focused on harnessing the power of technology. For patient-facing communications, the tools are available today, helping patients securely access the support and treatment they need from providers, whether they are in need of pain management or substance abuse treatment.